Unexpected path: Living with early on-set Alzheimer's - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Unexpected path: Living with early on-set Alzheimer's

PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC (WMBF) - Living with early on-set Alzheimer’s. It's a situation one couple never would have expected, but after looking back they say the signs were there. Now they are sharing their story with WMBF News about what it’s like to live with this disease and how it has changed their lives.

Patty and Howard Younts had rich plans for how they would spend their golden years together - traveling, boating, fishing - but their plans would change and they would have to take an unexpected path. But, they are determined to walk this journey together.

For 31 years, the Younts have walked side by side. "Howard and I have had a wonderful life together, we really have," said Patty. 

The two first laid eyes on each other while working at a country club in Litchfield Beach. "This handsome young man showed up at Litchfield Country Club, and we just sort of hit it off, " laughed Patty. They needed a golf course superintendent, and Howard got the job. "We got married in the Pawleys Island Chapel, and that's been 31 years ago." Howard added, "Yeah that little chapel is right down the road there, it is, it's right down the road."

The couple says a few years ago, they would learn life was taking them on different path. "Before he became sick, we did a lot of traveling, we enjoyed our life together, and did things," said Patty. "You just know when you live with someone that there's something wrong."

For years, Howard thought he suffered from vision problems; numerous trips to the eye doctor provided no answers. "He began to have issues with numbers, could no longer do math, and he kept talking about something was wrong with his glasses," explained Patty. 

After dozens of tests and seeing numerous specialists, the couple would find out nearly two years later Howard's condition was far worse than expected.

Patty explained, "Howard was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 60, thinking back now, there were signs prior to that."

Posterior Cortical Atrophy or PCA, which is a variant of Alzheimer's, was taking over Howard's brain.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early on-set refers to anyone who is diagnosed with dementia, whether it’s Alzheimer's or any other type of dementia before the age of 65. Howard experienced signs of dementia in his 50's.

The couple says they never considered it could be dementia.

"I have to say probably both of us went through some denial, said Patty, and Howard agrees.

Howard, a war veteran, is not much for words, as he sometimes has difficulty grasping what's happening to him as a result of this disease. The couple is part of a support group, that has been a tremendous help. 

They're steady moving forward - despite Howard's condition - still looking for the joys in life. 

"We walk about every day" said Patty. Each day before the sun rises, you'll find the Younts faithfully walking. It's part of their therapy,  and it's their way to spend time with each other. "We try to spend time outside, we try to do things that Howard can do that's fun, he likes to go shopping with me, he pushes the cart and that's great, said Patty, but Howard doesn't see it that way. "I wouldn't say all that, " Howard laughs jokingly. "We try to keep the glass half full and not half empty," Patty says with a smile. 

When you're taking each day step by step, there are days when frustration sets in. Howard says it's more so because he can't do things that he used to do. Simple tasks like putting on shoes and socks can be overwhelming.  "You just pick up your shoes and socks and put them right on, I've got to turn around a couple times, sometimes," Howard said. 

"He has to remind me, I don't understand what you want me to do. You need to be specific with me, and then it makes me take stock, and I say to myself, that is correct he is right, you need to be very specific," explained Patty. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this is the most expensive disease in America. Unless something is done, the illness will cost over 1 trillion dollars by 2050. Every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease, and more people die from Alzheimer's than breast and prostate cancer combined. 

In South Carolina, it’s the 6th leading cause of death; it's why the Younts has now dedicated much of their time to the Alzheimer’s Association to help bring awareness, and find a cure.

"We need to find and have the first survivor for this disease," said Patty. 

Howard says for him the disease is not about losing his mind. "I don't look at it that way, I have to look positively. There's still a chance," said Howard. 

For the couple, It's about taking a new road in a different direction to hopefully help others see the more important things in life.

"Enjoy your life, enjoy your life together," said Patty.

If you want to join Patty and Howard in the fight for Alzheimer's first survivor, you can walk with them, as they and others participate in the Myrtle Beach Walk to End Alzheimer's. The walk will be held November 4, at Grand Park in The Market Common. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and the opening ceremony is 10:45 a.m. 

For more information or to register for the walk, click here. 

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